The Inkey List vs The Ordinary: Which Products Work Better?
I recently tried several products from The Inkey List, a budget-friendly skincare line sold at Sephora here in the US. Impressed with the results, I decided to try similar products from another very popular budget skincare line, The Ordinary.
Both The Inkey List and The Ordinary are VERY AFFORDABLE (yes!). Both brands focus on single hero-ingredient products, which lend themselves to comparison. Since both brands offer many of the same hero-ingredient products, in this post, I decided to compare my experience with similar products from each brand.
UPDATE for 2020: The Inkey List and The Ordinary continue to release new products, so I purchased a few more products from each brand to compare. Please scroll down to the bottom of this post for new reviews of alpha arbutin, rosehip oil and squalane products from The Inkey List and The Ordinary.
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But first, a little bit about the brands:
The Ordinary skincare brand’s tagline is “Clinical Formulations with Integrity”. They want to bring pricing and communication integrity to the forefront of the skincare industry. The Ordinary falls under the umbrella of brands from Deciem. Other higher-end skincare brands owned by Deciem include Niod and Hylamide, so The Ordinary enjoys the backing of an extensive family of skincare brands and their research.
The Ordinary was launched in Sephora in 2017 and has become a go-to for low priced high-quality hero-ingredient skincare products. You can read more about my experience with The Ordinary in this review of The Ordinary skincare products.
The Inkey List
The Inkey List aims to help you work through beauty jargon by delivering key active skincare ingredients at budget prices. They offer products that are both trendy and classic in plain plastic packaging which allows for their rock bottom prices. This keeps the focus on the product inside the packaging.
$7.99 for an awesome hyaluronic acid? Yes, please!! For more details on my experience with The Inkey List, be sure to check out this post on the Inkey List. I will summarize my thoughts on many of the products from that post here and how they compare to similar products from The Ordinary.
Related Post: The Inkey List Skincare Review
A Single Hero Ingredient
Both The Inkey List and The Ordinary are skincare lines that have several products that focus on a single hero ingredient. So while these products are very inexpensive, please keep in mind that you will often need to use multiple single ingredient products to replace other products (often more expensive) that contain multiple active ingredients.
You’ll also need to learn a bit about the product formulations and how products should or shouldn’t be combined. Luckily, both brands have very helpful information on their websites on how to use their products. It’s great to see that both brands are educating their customers about their formulations. Now, onto the formula comparisons.
The Inkey List Lactic Acid Serum vs The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA
Lactic acid is an all-star chemical exfoliator that sweeps away dead skin cells to reveal brighter, more radiant skin and improved skin texture. Lactic acid molecules are larger than other acids, such as glycolic acid, which means that lactic acid does not penetrate the skin as deeply as glycolic acid. As a result, lactic acid may be an option for those who have sensitive skin, as it is generally better tolerated than glycolic acid.
The Inkey List Lactic Acid Serum contains 10% lactic acid and 1% low molecular hyaluronic acid. Low molecular hyaluronic acid has a lower weight, has smaller molecules, and can penetrate deeper into the skin than other varieties of hyaluronic acid. The serum also contains moisturizing glycerin and antioxidant Agastache Mexicana Flower/Leaf/Stem Extract.
The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA contains 10% lactic acid and sodium hyaluronate crosspolymer. This type of hyaluronic acid has a very high water-binding capacity allowing it to provide long-term moisture. The serum also contains Tasmanian Pepperberry to help reduce sensitivity and inflammation that can be a result of lactic acid use.
RESULTS: Both lactic acid serums exfoliate dead skin cells leading to brighter and smoother skin. I use lactic acid at night, so I always notice that my skin is more refined in the morning after using these products that work very similarly for me.
I believe both of these serums are a great value for their prices. Currently, The Inkey List Lactic Acid Serum is $12.99 for 1 oz. and The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA is a stand-out at $6.80 for 1 oz. While the products and results are very similar for both brands, the price and packaging have The Ordinary leading in the comparison between the two.
The Inkey List Vitamin C Cream vs The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%
Vitamin C is a hero antioxidant that targets fines lines and wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, dullness, and loss of elasticity and firmness. It’s great for brightening the skin. I like to apply vitamin C products in the mornings since vitamin C targets free-radical damage that your skin is often exposed to during the daylight hours.
The Inkey List Vitamin C Cream contains 30% pure L-Ascorbic Acid and three silicones. It is a water-free highly concentrated formula that may cause irritation to sensitive skin.
I noticed some tingling and irritation immediately after applying it. The formula is somewhat grainy and you need to be careful about layering it alongside other skincare ingredients because it may cause pilling. Instructions note that you can add a few drops of hyaluronic acid serum to the cream. This will thin the cream and provide added moisture.
While this product is for all skin types, combination and oily skin types may benefit most from this product since it leaves a smooth matte finish on your face and almost acts like a primer for your makeup.
The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2% contains 23% pure l-ascorbic acid plus hyaluronic acid and does not contain any silicones. Even though it has 7% less l-ascorbic acid than The Inkey List, I found this Vitamin C treatment more irritating than The Inkey List. The cream formula is thinner than The Inkey List and also has a grainy texture. Once applied to my skin, it left a sheen that I didn’t care for.
The Ordinary produces eight different kinds of Vitamin C, so I’m guessing that I would be able to find a formula that didn’t irritate my skin as much as this one. Have you tried and had success with any of The Ordinary’s other Vitamin C formulas? If so, let me know, because I’d love to give them a try.
RESULTS: Due to irritation, I didn’t really care for either product, but preferred The Inkey List Vitamin C Cream due to its matte finish and since it caused less irritation than The Ordinary Vitamin C Suspension 23% + HA Spheres 2%.
The Inkey List Retinol Serum vs The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion
There are many different kinds of retinoids available on the market today, some stronger than others. Retinoids help fight fine lines, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation, and texture by neutralizing free radicals that break down collagen. Retinoids can also encourage new collagen production, so they are a stand-out ingredient in an anti-aging skincare arsenal.
It’s important to note that retinoids may increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so sunscreen is necessary when using these products and for a week afterward.
The Inkey List Retinol Serum has stabilized retinol 1% and granactive retinoid 0.5% to help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Retinol, a derivative of Vitamin A which helps support collagen production and cellular renewal, and a granactive retinoid (ester of all-trans retinoic acid) are combined together in a slow-release formula for maximum effect with minimum irritation.
It also contains squalane and hyaluronic acid for added hydration. It is a yellow-colored cream that did not irritate my skin at all! I’ve nearly finished the tube and can safely say that this is the first retinol/retinoid that has not irritated my skin. My skin is clearer and fine lines are diminished when I wake up in the morning after using this serum at night.
The Ordinary produces six different kinds of retinol and three of the six products contain a granactive retinoid. Their granactive retinoid is a complex of solubilized Hydroxypinacolone Retinoate (HPR). HPR is a retinoic acid ester that is delivered in a protective capsule system for improved delivery and effects. It binds directly with retinoid receptors without the need for further metabolic breakdown into a more active form. It claims to cause less irritation than other retinoids/retinols while being just as effective.
The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion did not irritate my skin at all, which is very exciting considering I’ve had such a difficult time with retinoids in the past. Its liquid formula applies smoothly after water-based serums but before thicker serums and creams.
RESULTS: I found both The Inkey List and The Ordinary retinol/retinoid products very comparable. I am thrilled to say that neither product irritated my skin and I woke up in the morning with smoother and brighter skin after using both products.
As I’ve continued to use these two retinoids, I reach for The Ordinary more often than The Inkey List. The liquid formula works well with other skincare products, and I have seen slightly more clarity and smoothing with The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 2% Emulsion.
Related Post: Best of 2019: Skincare Favorites
The Inkey List Glycolic Acid Toner vs The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution
Glycolic acid exfoliates dead skin cells, helps to brighten the skin, refine the skin’s texture and may benefit oily complexions. Glycolic acid is a smaller molecule than other acids such as lactic acid, so glycolic acid travels deeper into the skin. As a result, some may experience irritation from glycolic acid.
These products may increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun, so applying sunscreen to your skin is necessary when using these products and for a week afterward.
The Inkey List Glycolic Acid Exfoliating Toner contains 10% glycolic acid and 5% witch-hazel for oil control. After trying both of these glycolic acid products, I’ve determined that unfortunately, I’m sensitive to glycolic acid. While I found this toner less irritating than The Ordinary, I did notice that my skin seemed more refined the morning after using this.
The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution contains 7% glycolic acid, amino acids, aloe vera, ginseng, and Tasmanian Pepperberry to help combat irritation. The pH of this product is approximately 3.6 which is nearly the same as the pKa (acid availability) of glycolic acid, which is 3.6. Having the same pH and pKa indicates a balance between acidity and salts. This allows for maximum efficacy with minimal irritation.
Unfortunately, this toner irritated my skin and reddened my face upon application, although I did notice that my skin was brighter and clearer in the morning after using this at night.
RESULTS: While both products irritated my skin, I preferred The Ordinary’s packaging. The Inkey List Glycolic Acid Toner is 3.4 oz and $10.99 and The Ordinary Glycolic Acid 7% Toning Solution is 8 oz and $8.70. While I found the results comparable, the pricing and product size give the edge to The Ordinary.
The Inkey List Hyaluronic Acid Serum vs The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5
Hyaluronic acid is a skin hydrating superstar, as it’s known to attract 1,000 times its weight in water. Don’t let the word acid scare you away! This is a hero hydrator that can be combined with other acids and skincare products for maximum hydration.
I tried a few hyaluronic acids prior to trying The Inkey List’s and they always left my skin sticky or tacky and I was not impressed. The Inkey List Hyaluronic Acid Serum contains low and high molecular weight Hyaluronic Acid 2% for optimum penetration and hydration. It also contains Matrixyl 3000 peptide which targets fine lines while plumping the skin and supporting collagen production.
The Inkey List Hyaluronic Acid Serum is one of the best that I’ve tried. It dries quickly, works well with other products in my skincare routine and really hydrates. The only drawback for me was the squeeze bottle. Sometimes the serum would drip down the side of the bottle. This is a minor issue considering how much I love the product itself.
The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 contains low-, medium- and high-molecular-weight Hyaluronic Acid, and also contains a next-generation HA crosspolymer plus B5 for even more hydration. The glass bottle and dropper makes for a better delivery system than The Inkey List. It also dries quickly and hydrates well. Exactly what it was designed to do.
RESULTS: While I like The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, The Inkey Lists Hyaluronic Acid Serum wins this one. It hydrates without being sticky or tacky and as a bonus, it contains Matrixyl 3000 peptide that targets wrinkles and fine lines.
Related Post: The Best The Ordinary Products for Dry Skin
The Inkey List Alpha Arbutin Serum vs. The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA
The more I learn about alpha arbutin the more I like this ingredient for brightening the skin and for reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation, dark spots and discoloration.
Originating in plant species such as bearberry, blueberry, and cranberry, arbutin blocks tyrosinase, the enzyme involved in melanin production. Another plus is that arbutin can usually be used by those with sensitive skin since its active element is released slowly.
There are two kinds of arbutin: alpha and beta. Alpha arbutin is considered to be more effective (and more expensive) than beta arbutin. The following products contain alpha arbutin.
The Inkey List Alpha Arbutin Serum contains alpha arbutin at 2% plus hyaluronic acid, squalane at .5%, glycerin, and phospholipids, all ingredients that supply moisture to the skin. The last ingredient (a small amount) in the formula is tetrapeptide-30. This peptide protects the skin barrier and can help fade hyperpigmentation.
The serum comes in a tube and has a lightweight opaque gel texture. After application, it takes a bit of time to dry, but it does not interfere with other skincare and makeup products.
The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA contains 2% alpha arbutin and hydrolyzed sodium hyaluronate, a next-generation form of hyaluronic acid. It penetrates the skin deeply for intense hydration.
The pH of the formula is approximately 4.9. This is an ideal pH to minimize the degradation of the serum in the presence of water.
The formula comes in a bottle with dropper. It has the consistency of a clear runny gel. Like The Inkey List, it takes some time to dry. It does not interfere with the application of other skincare products or makeup.
RESULTS: I find that The Inkey List Alpha Arbutin Serum is slightly more hydrating, otherwise both products behave very similarly. Both products can be used in the AM and PM.
I have yet to see a noticeable change in my skin, but I will continue to use these products as a preventative measure. They will work on current hyperpigmentation and dark spots, and also prevent new dark spots from forming.
Due to the extra hydrating ingredients in The Inkey List formula and the smooth gel texture, I prefer it slightly to The Ordinary Alpha Arbutin 2% + HA.
The Inkey List Rosehip Oil vs. The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil
Pressed from wild rosehip fruit seeds, rosehip oil not only moisturizes your skin but does so much more. A supreme multi-tasker, it also works as an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant and has antimicrobial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. You can use rosehip oil twice a day. This oil benefits all skin types.
Rosehip oil contains essential fatty acids to support collagen formation and skin elasticity. It is also rich in vitamin C that works as a free-radical fighter in addition to brightening the skin and fighting hyperpigmentation.
Rosehip oil is rich in vitamin A, so please keep this in mind if using it with retinoids, since retinoids are vitamin A derivatives and can be harsh on the skin.
The Inkey List Rosehip Oil contains 100% pure rosehip oil rich in omega-6 fatty acids. An Allure magazine Best of Beauty award winner, this oil is light yet nourishing.
Perfect for dull, uneven skin, this rosehip oil brightens with its antioxidant properties. You’ll only need a few drops as the last step in your skincare routine. You can also mix a drop or two into your moisturizer or foundation for a beautiful glow.
The Ordinary 100% Organic Cold-Pressed Rose Hip Seed Oil is sustainably-sourced, organic, cold-pressed rosehip seed oil. Rich in linoleic acid, linolenic acid, and pro-vitamin A, the oil has a natural scent due to the high omega fatty acid content.
Even though packaged in glass, The Ordinary’s rosehip oil comes in UV-protective packaging. Only a drop or two is needed of this rich but light oil. Like The Inkey List, it is best used as the last step of your skincare routine and also can be mixed in with your foundation or moisturizer.
RESULTS: I’ve been using each oil on one side of my face and have found them very similar. They work really well for my skin during cold-weather months. Using these oils as the last step in my skincare routine really seals in the water-based products underneath.
The Ordinary is easier to administer with the dropper that comes with the glass bottle, while The Inkey List’s plastic bottle has a flip cap that does a surprisingly good job of controlling the oil flowing from it. Still, I like The Ordinary’s packaging better.
The Ordinary Rosehip has a slightly lighter feel on my skin. Since I usually don’t love my skin feeling oily, I tend to reach for The Ordinary more often.
The Inkey List Squalane vs. The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane
Squalane is a skincare ingredient that has been getting quite a bit of buzz recently due to the many benefits it provides for the skin. Squalene (with an “e”) is naturally present in the skin’s barrier and prevents moisture loss but declines as we age. Squalene is unstable when exposed to oxygen, so for skincare products, hydrogen is added to squalene to form a saturated and stable oil: squalane.
Plant-derived squalane does so much more than just moisturize the skin. It has anti-aging and anti-inflammatory benefits, such as protecting skin from free radical damage, can help treat eczema and psoriasis, regulate oil production and even supports increased collagen production. Plus it’s ideal for all skin types.
The Inkey List Squalane is 100% plant-derived and contains 100% squalane. This lightweight oil not only hydrates but soothes the skin. You only need a drop or two to cover your entire face.
I use this at night and I think it helps when using retinol and other potentially irritating products. For those that like a glow, you can give it a try during the day or add a drop or two to your foundation.
The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane is also 100% plant-derived as the title indicates and like The Inkey List, contains only squalane. This is an even lighter feeling squalane oil that sinks in quickly and is a real-deal multitasker. I use it as the last step of my skincare routine but I think both of these oils are light enough to use under a moisturizer.
NOTE: The Ordinary also has a gentle and hydrating Squalane Cleanser, ideal for dry skin.
RESULTS: I can’t get over how light yet hydrating and plumping squalane oil is. It really is ruining other oils for me because it feels so weightless on my skin. Both of these squalane oils are very light, which really stood out to me during testing. The delivery of the oils is the biggest difference that I noticed.
The Ordinary comes in a glass bottle with dropper. The Inkey List comes in a plastic tube with a disc cap. Using the tube with disc cap could be very messy. You don’t want to waste the oil and have it run down the side of the tube. But the disc cap has two opening levels that control the flow of oil.
I slightly preferred The Ordinary over The Inkey List due to the more elegant packaging and lighter feel. I’ll continue to use both oils in my skincare routine.
Final Thoughts on The Inkey List vs The Ordinary
I really like these straightforward hero-ingredient products and their budget-friendly prices. I found that The Ordinary was more transparent with their ingredients and formulations and I preferred their packaging by a mile. The Inkey List has some really great product formulations as well and overall, I think The Inkey List’s products are more elegant in texture and skin feel. For this reason, I reach for The Inkey List products more often than The Ordinary products.
I loved The Inkey List Hyaluronic Acid and The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + HA. Although I was not a fan of either brand’s Vitamin C or Glycolic Acid, I preferred The Inkey List’s Vitamin C and The Ordinary’s Glycolic Acid. I found a new favorite ingredient: SQUALANE. You can find it in The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane. What a light multi-tasking oil!
You can try many of The Inkey List and The Ordinary products for the price of one expensive luxury brand product and often get better results than the high-end product. I expect we will see more of these lower-priced no-frills brands soon if the success of The Inkey List and The Ordinary is any indication. Yay for low-cost high-quality anti-aging skincare!!
Thanks for reading, and until next time…